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Vermette scores hat trick, Sens grab two huge points with 8-2 rout over rival Leafs

Ottawa Senators' Mike Fisher, right, knocks Toronto Maple Leafs' Alex Steen off his feet during first period NHL hockey action in Toronto, Thursday April 3, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

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Ottawa Senators' Mike Fisher, right, knocks Toronto Maple Leafs' Alex Steen off his feet during first period NHL hockey action in Toronto, Thursday April 3, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

TORONTO - His team had just picked up two huge points in the standings - possibly saving their season - but Bryan Murray was fuming.

The Ottawa head coach doesn't know when he'll get Daniel Alfredsson back in his lineup after the star captain was injured by a borderline hit from Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mark Bell during Thursday's 8-2 Senators rout.

"I didn't like the hit," Murray said. "I thought he was blind-sighted. The knee came out, and it was a hit to the head."

Countered Leafs head coach Paul Maurice: "We should've seen a lot more of those during the course of the year. It was a good hit. It was clean."

Who says the Battle of Ontario is dead?

Ottawa star Dany Heatley, who had two goals in Thursday's win, said most players let up when they have a player in Alfredsson's position who is in a vulnerable spot after letting go of the puck.

"It's borderline dirty when you do that," Heatley said of Bell.

The Leafs centre disagreed.

"It was a clean hit, guy cutting across the middle, takes a shot, I hit him," said Bell.

When asked if there was an elbow that connected with Alfredsson, Bell replied: "No, I hit him with my shoulder."

Either way, the hit seemed to spark the Senators, who were ahead 2-1 late in the first period when the hit happened.

"That definitely got us going," said Heatley. "That's our captain."

Murray said Alfredsson had "a bit of a knee problem" and an upper body injury (likely a head injury) and almost surely won't play in Friday's regular-season finale at home to Boston. The question is, will Alfredsson be back in time for the first round of the playoffs next week? The team was expected to provide another update on Alfredsson on Friday.

The Senators also lost centre Mike Fisher to a knee injury early in the first period.

So it was a costly win, but a crucial one nonetheless for an Ottawa club that was fading badly and threatening to miss the playoffs. A point in Friday's game will clinch a playoff berth for the Senators.

"It was a big win," said Murray. "We had to get to the two points so this was huge. Now we have to go home and do the same against Boston."

Antoine Vermette had his first career hat trick while Dean McAmmond, Cody Bass and Jason Spezza also scored for the Senators, who were under intense scrutiny from fans and media in Ottawa this week for their late-season tumble down the standings.

A loss on Thursday night would have left the Sens dangling on the playoff bubble. But the win kept Ottawa in sixth place in the Eastern Conference at 94 points, three ahead of ninth-place Philadelphia. Boston and Washington occupy the last two playoff spots at 92 points. The Capitals moved ahead of the Flyers after a 4-1 win over Tampa Bay on Thursday night.

Bell and Dominic Moore scored for the Leafs, who fittingly ended their home schedule with a thorough beating in their third consecutive season outside of the playoffs. They also gave up three short-handed goals on the night.

"It's a real disappointing end," Maurice of his team's performance in the last home game.

Fans in Toronto were excited about Thursday's game, hoping to inflict some pain on their hated provincial rivals. Instead, the Senators recovered from a slow start and played one of their best games since the all-star break, looking one step ahead of the Leafs all night long.

"We gave up the first goal tonight which is always a concern given the way we've played lately," said Murray. "But we held together. The guys were great on the bench. We stuck with it."

Vesa Toskala got shelled in the Toronto net, giving up eight goals on 37 shots, although he didn't get much help from his teammates. Martin Gerber got the win in goal for Ottawa, stopping 26 shots.

Bell opened the scoring at 6:30 of the first period, snapping a wrist shot past Gerber's glove side to make it 1-0 Leafs as the Air Canada Centre exploded in agreement. But that's when the fun stopped for Leaf fans.

Ottawa got into the game when Heatley's one-timer on a Sens power play made it 1-1 at 11:12. It was only Ottawa's second shot of the game. The Sens took the lead 2-1 with 2:45 to go when Alfredsson picked up his second assist with a nice feed to Spezza on a 3-on-1.

Then came the Bell hit on Alfredsson. The Sens were out for blood after that. Ottawa winger Shean Donovan induced a fight with Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe, while moments later Bass pummelled Leafs forward John Pohl in another.

Alfredsson played one shift in the second period before heading back to the dressing room, obviously still feeling the effects of the Bell hit.

No need for Alfie to play hurt, his teammates could handle the Leafs without him.

Bass scored a short-handed goal 6:03 into the second period, completing a nice feed from Chris Phillips. Vermette himself then took care of business with a pair of rebound goals, one on a power play at 14:01 and the other a back breaker at 19:33, making it 5-1 Senators after 40 minutes.

McAmmond and Vermette made it embarrassing for the home side when they scored short-handed goals on the same Leaf power play early in the third period. McAmmond scored on a partial breakaway at 2:27 while Vermette put in his own rebound at 3:11 after Toskala stopped his first two attempts.

Moore made it 7-2 at 6:51 but Heatley restored the six-goal lead 23 seconds later.

Notes: Veteran winger Cory Stillman returned to the Ottawa lineup after missing two games with a leg injury ... The Leafs were once again without top scorers Mats Sundin (groin) and Nik Antropov (knee). The Leafs close out their regular season Saturday night at Montreal with backup Andrew Raycroft in net for the Leafs... It was the third time in franchise history the Sens scored three short-handed goals in a game.

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